March 28, 2019
By Paul Bubny
Chicagoans of all stripes have been watching the progress of Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards mega-project—some with enthusiasm, others with skepticism. One observer of the project has a particular interest in seeing it get built: Peter Billmeyer, co-founder of tenant-oriented services firm Bespoke Commercial Real Estate. Connect Media sat down with Billmeyer to get his take on why he believes Lincoln Yards will be a magnet.
Q: Although Lincoln Yards is not the only large-scale development on the drawing boards, at present it appears to be closest to becoming a reality. From the standpoint of providing a solution for office tenants seeking new space, what are its key attributes—aside from representing all-new construction?
Peter Billmeyer: Without a doubt, the single most powerful attribute of the Lincoln Yards project is its proximity to talent. While there has been an increase in post-college graduates living in River North and the West Loop, Lincoln Park, Lakeview and Bucktown still have incredibly high concentrations of creative and educated young graduates.
I also love the proximity to public transportation. Between the 606, the Clybourn stop and the Brown line, Lincoln Yards falls in such an attractive geographic location for city commuters. For traditional commuters, being right off of 90/94 and Armitage is also very attractive. If you are coming from the northern or northwestern suburbs, avoiding the Ohio Feeder Ramp or the Loop is huge—it will save you 15 minutes each way so long as Sterling Bay delivers on the egress and infrastructure improvements they have promised.
Q: In particular, how do Lincoln Yards’ location and a mix of uses satisfy tenants’ requirements for access to talent?
Billmeyer: There is talent located all over Chicago and in each neighborhood, but the concentration of highly-educated talent in that area is unique. The ability for employees to walk or commute to work is desirable. When looking at all the other facets of the project from the retail and amenities, there will be no reason for employees to have to leave Lincoln Yards during their work day.
At Bespoke, we constantly remind clients that “real estate is a down payment on culture,” and the proximity to where a potential employee lives is significant in this regard. If I am a young employee living in the area weighing competing job offers between Lincoln Yards or the Loop, I think the clear majority would pick the company that is located in Lincoln Yards. Especially for younger generations of talent, the proximity of work to home is a major factor in weighing job prospects. The next generation of talent simply isn’t willing to waste time commuting if they don’t have to.
Q: Chicago has been ranked number one by Site Selection magazine for the past couple of years. Do you anticipate that Lincoln Yards will become a “destination” for tenants that are relocating their offices to Chicago from other regions?
Billmeyer: Without a doubt, I think Lincoln Yard’s potential as a destination for corporate relocations is off the charts. The proximity to so many beautiful things that make Chicago, Chicago is incredible. From the fantastic views of the city; access to talent, restaurants, great surrounding neighborhoods, and public transportation, I see beautiful things in that area’s future. When evaluating to relocate to Chicago from other regions, it will jump to the top of the list so long as the company doesn’t need to be surrounded by infrastructure that only the Loop can provide. (Union Station, Ogilvie, courthouses, City Hall, etc.)
Q: The surrounding community, including the aldermen whose wards touch on Lincoln Yards, has raised concerns, and Sterling Bay has been decisive in addressing them. Do you see this as one of the main reasons that the project has had a relatively straightforward pathway through the approvals process?
Billmeyer: I think it’s incredibly important to address that Sterling Bay is Chicago-born and headquartered here. They are not an outsider coming in from one of the coasts trying to put their stamp on our fantastic city. The results of this project will forever tie to Sterling Bay and that responsibility, from what I have been told, is not lost on them.
A project of this magnitude fits perfectly into Daniel Burnham’s “make no small plans.” I think there is always a compromise between all concerned parties, but no one wins on all fronts. I was super disappointed to see the loss of the soccer stadium, but I understand. There is an excellent line between a project’s economic viability, affordable housing, density, and overall aesthetic.
It’s impossible to get it perfect, but based on Sterling Bay’s history and project execution, I am happy it’s them as opposed to someone else, especially an outsider. I think their track record and commitment to Chicago played a crucial role in the efficiency with which they have navigated the approval process.
For comments, questions or concerns, please contact Paul Bubny